Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

November 21, 2018

 

Classic Thanksgiving cartoon by Glenn McCoy.

Dear Pilgrims ~ Hail Ye! ~ Hear Me!

This is the Voice of the Future speaking to you from the year 2018! We may sound to you that we are speaking in a strange new form of English usage ~ but that’s cool. ~ We’re down with that!

Our time/space broadcasting technology may also resonate into your neck of the woods ears like the always booming Voice of God ~ but hang tight ~ we are not God ~ nor any other spirit that your own ladies in those black pointed hats has conjured up in one of those big boiling plots! ~ No way! ~ We simply are who we say we are ~ The Voice of the Future ~ and we are here to give you a shout out about that not-so-fast first Thanksgiving cartoon that you dudes have decided to publish! ~ You know the one! ~ The one that shows all the female Pilgrims sweating their hearts out over the preparation of that first turkey day dinner of gratitude ~ while the male pilgrims cavalierly engage the even then famous Washington Redskins in the first Turkey Day football game in history!

Just hold the presses right there, folks!

My wife saw that cartoon all the way up here in the 21st century (thanks to an ancestral aunt who lives among you in 1621 as one of the black pointed hat ladies who witch-crafted it all the way up here to her) and now she wants me to do what I can to dissuade you from letting this new practice of an annual thanksgiving day upon which the men get to play while the women slave away fixing them a scrumptious meal as the whole thing unfolds into the shocking tradition it is likely to become!

“I’ve never seen such rampant sexism and racism in the act of getting started from the very first day as an American tradition ~ while everyone just moves around ~ filling all the necessary roles ~ and making it happen!” So said me deary ~ and in a fomentation of fury I’ve rarely seen in this once sweet image of youthful saucy energy that she truly is!

“Me neither,” I said ~ and in my strongest voice of concisely chiseled emotional support.

“William,” Norma continued, “I think we should try to do something about it with our present level of understanding, need, and technology! ~ DON’T YOU?” ~ She added, in a voice that reverberated like a bolt of runaway thunder.

“Me too!” I quickly answered. Then I looked into a nearby mirror and smiled, as I also mutely formed the sound of those two glorious words of courage again ~ this time, mimed and so silently whispered into my own smiling face ~ as I watched the formation of each facial muscle I was required to make to have pitched and flat-out delivered the first aloud expression of these great liberators ~ the ones that came instants earlier with credible affirmation oozing from both my words of response to my dear wife Norma’s strongly emphatic request for support of her opinion ~ and my own desire to do the right thing.

“Me too!” ~ Gee, I thought! You did sound great, kiddo! Then I uttered those same two turn-key words again ~ and this time ~ more softly ~ and to my own congratulatory ears.

Norma wanted more.

“Well, what are you going to do about it,” Norma demanded. ~ “Are you going to do one of your time travel broadcasts ~ one that shakes the leaves of every apple tree in the valley during their harvest time season? ~ ‘Cause, if you do, let ’em think you’re God all they want. We sure know you’re not, but they’ve never met you ~ and it wouldn’t hurt them to worry about an invasion of bugs for a while ~ and, at least, until they mend their ways!”

“Me too!” ~ I said again, in even greater focus. ~ “But I cannot tell them an untruth. And besides, I’ve already told them the truth in the part you walked in and heard.”

But here’s what I will tell them, sweetheart ~ even if the word “commandments” does fall a little bit on the heavy-handed and unenforceable side: …..

Male Pilgrims Behold ~

And Heed These 11 (ahem) Commandments

For Pilgrims on Your Next & 2nd Thanksgiving Day:

1. Put away that oblong-shaped ball.

2. Only pick it up when its freezing outside.

3. Send the Redskins home to help their squaws.

4. Never play football on Thanksgiving Day again.

5. Make baseball your Thanksgiving Day tradition.

6. First find 4 trees that are 90′ apart in a diamond shape.

7. Make sure you can hear the dinner bell from that spot.

8. Cut down the trees, but leave the stumps in place.

9. Use the 4 stumps as home plate and the 3 bases.

10. Play ball ~ if you can find the balls to do so in 1622.

11. When dishes are invented, men should help wash them. *

* And, if ever there were a new 11th General Commandment, this one about the dishes ought to be it. If it weren’t for the more general “raise and lower the toilet seat with the ladies in mind,” it probably would be #11 among the new general commandments too.

******************************

Norma to Bill: “I’m grateful that our relationship always has been based on giving each other the mutual right to be different from each other!”
********
Bill to Norma: “Me too!”

            ~ from Everyone at The Pecan Park Eagle!

 

******************************

 

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

Houston Nearer Major Leagues (Feb 1960)

November 21, 2018

Bob Smith and Roy Hofheinz are the first 2 men on the far left;
George Kirksey and Craig Cullinan are the last 2 men in dark suits on the far right;
County Judge Bill Elliott is the short fellow in the center.

This Associated Press article from the February 11, 1960 edition of the Corpus Christi Times helps to fill in most of the money blanks on how difficult the money differences between the Houston Buffs and the Houston Sports Association came to be over their territorial rights settlement and any hope that the local new big league club might come to rebirth in either the newly proposed Continental League ~ or the established National League ~ by their anciently powerful Houston Buffaloes identity. Although not mentioned here, Judge Roy Hofheinz of the HSA would see to it that the Buffs and Buff Stadium would be reduced to less than a stone upon a stone within the next three years. With the gathering steam of support, for and from within the established NL in favor of Houston and Hofheinz’s pledge that this city was set to bring futuristic change to baseball venue construction , the embryonic Continental League would soon enough be aborted as real plans for the world’s first covered baseball stadium were born and brought to fruition on that same patch of land that’s referenced here in the following piece.

On October 17, 1960, at the annual Major League Baseball owners meetings in Chicago, Houston and New York were awarded expansion club franchises as members of the National League. Judge Hofheinz and His HSA crew were there to receive the news in person and later pose for the featured photo shown here. The two new teams would begin play in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets.

Where has the time gone?

******************************

Houston Nearer Major Leagues *

Houston (AP) ~ Houston moved closer to major league baseball yesterday with (the) selection of site for the stadium and an offer by backers of the Continental League to buy or merge with the Houston member of the American Association.

One of the five founders of the Continental Baseball League, the Houston Sports Association offered to buy control of the Houston Buffs for $184,000.

But Russell Rowles, Buff board chairman, indicated the cash offer would be unsatisfactory.

He said, however, he would recommend that stockholders give study to an alternative proposal submitted by Continental backers that the two groups be merged.

Two weeks ago Buff officers offered to sell for $262,500. Marty Marion, Buff President, earlier set a sales price of $492,500 for the club. The price included Marion’s $25,000 five-year contract.

The alternate proposal would have the Continental group and Buff stockholders name committees to work out ways to work out an equitable merger of the groups, said Craig Cullinan Jr., chairman of the syndicate that holds Houston’s Continental franchise.

The offer to purchase the Buffs expires at 5:00 pm Monday.

The offer came only a few hours after county officials announced commitments on a 300-acre site for a huge county sports center with major league baseball and professional football facilities.

The proposed site is in Houston on Highway 59 south and about eight miles south of the downtown area.

Bill Elliott, County Judge, said the county is in position to seek prospective tenants for the stadium.

Cullinan said, “It is clearly apparent to all baseball fans of this area (that) the Continental League is Houston’s best and only way to reach major league status. The Houston Sports Association is doing everything in its power to clear all obstacles immediately so that Houston can present a combined effort in achieving its long sought goal.”

He said that ~ “In the event the Houston Buffs reject both proposals, the Houston Sports Association will continue to develop its program for the opening of the Continental League season here in 1961.

Rowles said current stockholders agreed to sell to the Continental group for $262,500 ~ the exact price paid for the stock last year.

 

* Headline Article, Page 12, by AP, Corpus Christi Times, Thursday, February 11, 1960

******************************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

The Astros Cap That Never Was

November 19, 2018

By Maxwell Kates

 

Writer Maxwell Kates

Earlier this month, I was standing in the Astros’ gift shop at Minute Maid Park waiting for a stadium tour to begin. Among other merchandise, they were selling every kind of Astros’ caps imaginable. Blue caps, gold caps, orange caps, World Series caps, caps shaded like the Texas flag. There were historic caps. Shooting star, tequila sunrise, Colt .45s. And that’s when two men asked me to identify a cap which appeared altogether new.

“Excuse me, Sir,” they asked.

“How may I help?”

“You look someone who works here.”

“No Sir, I don’t even work in this country. Are you here for the tour?”

“Well,” one of them answered, “it’s raining outside and our wives are looking at quilts all day, so …. yeah, that’s why we’re here.”

I soon discovered that one of the men was from Louisiana and the other was from Georgia. The Louisianan’s name was Norman LeBrun and I never did catch the Georgian’s name. They pointed me in the direction of a white cap with an orange crest and what appeared to be a three-dimensional letter A.

Phantom Astros Cap

“Have you ever seen one of these before?”

“No I’m afraid I haven’t.”

I was stumped but determined to understand what this cap was and why the Astros were selling it for $30.00 in their gift shop.

It turns out that the cap was designed to be worn by the Astros for the 1975 season but never actually introduced to the public for retail sale. Ten years prior, the Houston Colt .45s moved from mosquito-ridden Colt Stadium into the cavernous Harris County Domed Stadium. At the same time, the team changed its name to Astros. After experimenting with several cap styles in spring training 1965, the Astros settled on a blue cap with a white letter H on an orange star. The stadium, now known as the Astrodome, was dubbed ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ as team owner Judge Roy Hofheinz was lauded as a genius. Over two million spectators were lured by the charms of the Astrodome to watch a 9th place Astros team finish with a record of 65-97. After the 1970 season, by which time the Astros had failed to finish in the first division or surpass a record of .500, the team decided to invert their colour scheme. The caps were now orange with a white letter H on a blue star.

Larry Dierker Wearing 1974 Astros Uniform.

After contending briefly in 1972 (2nd place, 84-69), the Astros returned to mediocrity. Meanwhile, Judge Hofheinz’s financial empire had begun to crumble, pushing the team to the brink of bankruptcy. The Grand Huckster knew he had to adopt dynamic marketing if he wanted to bring the fans back to the Astrodome. The Astros turned to the New York-based advertising agency, McCann Erickson, to design a new uniform. The result was a radical design that sent shockwaves throughout baseball. Now the game looked remarkably different in 1975 than it had five years prior. Flannels had been replaced by polyester as the standard look of white at home and grey on the road could no longer be taken for granted. Rolling Stone writer Dan Epstein, who authored “Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 1970s,” attributed the sartorial revolution to the advent of colour television:

“The explosion of color in major league uniforms was certainly related to the rise in popularity (and the decline in cost) of color televisions in the U.S.” Epstein continues “1972 was the first year that color TVs outsold their black-and-white counterparts; it was also the first year that color sets outnumbered black-and-whites in American households.” Even with the Oakland A’s clad in green and gold, the Atlanta Braves looking like Evel Knievel, and the Cleveland Indians dressed as Bloody Marys in spikes, the Astros still managed to turn heads with their new haberdashery in 1975.

The Astros unveiled a uniform with horizontal orange and yellow stripes spread across the sleeves and torso. It included an orange belt, white pants, and a “crotch-accentuating fashion choice…the player’s number was also affixed to the right front of the ensemble.”

Tom Griffin Modeling the 1975 Astros Prototype Uniform.

Now have a look at the uniform Astros’ pitcher Tom Griffin is wearing. Something appears unfamiliar, right? Look to the very top of the photograph. That was the cap that Norman and his Georgia pal were questioning. But what’s the story behind the cap? Gary Rollins, vice president of communications for the Astros, remembers:

“The original design had a white cap with an orange bill,” Rollins told Paul Lukas in 2017. “Now there was a country club just outside of Houston, in Atascocita, that had just come out with a logo, an ‘A’ with a star, that really looked neat. So I went in there and said ‘Can we buy that from you so we can use it on the uniform?’ They said ‘Buy it? Just give us the tickets and we’ll give the damn thing to you!”

Free publicity for a team that was virtually broke. It sounds like an offer the cash-strapped Astros could not have refused. So why did they?

A Houston Astros 1975 Program Cartoon Feature.

At the time, the Astros’ general manager was the unpopular and parsimonious H. B. ‘Spec’ Richardson. At the helm since 1968, Richardson managed to de-jewel a team on the cusp of contending. In a series of Hofheinz-engineered trades, he dispatched Mike Cuellar, Bob Aspromonte, Rusty Staub, John Mayberry, and most infamously, Joe Morgan, all for less than the sum of their parts. Rollins recalls Richardson’s reaction to the new avant-garde cap:

“No, Gary, we can’t do that. We have over 1,000 caps in storage that we’ve already bought for next season.” Consequently, the Astros retained their 1974 caps despite the otherwise dynamic change in their outward appearance. With some modifications to the original design, the Astros unveiled their rainbow uniforms on Opening Day 1975. The home and road uniforms were identical, as evidenced by the under-noted photograph of J. R. Richard pitching at Wrigley Field.

J. R. Richard, pitching in Chicago in 1975. ~ At home ~ or on the road, the same new uniform equally glowed.

Although Houston fans grew to appreciate the rainbow design, it was not without its objection. Dan Epstein derided the uniforms as “something…smacked of chain motel bedspread or 747 jumbo-jet upholstery.” To Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Charlie Hough, a native of Honolulu, they looked “like Hawaiian softball uniforms.” Adding insult to injury, the new look did not help the Astros on the field. In 1975, they posted their worst record of the 20th century, 64-97, good for last place in the National League West. The ownership of the team would soon be assigned by a collection agency to Hofheinz’s creditors. By midseason, Spec Richardson was gone as general manager, replaced by Tal Smith of the New York Yankees.

As Smith told Paul Lukas, “…it was quite a change from the majestic pinstripes to the flashy rainbows. But I really liked the design.” Smith acknowledged the public relations issues faced by the Astros, insisting that “the uniform was an important step. The one thing I did not care for was the circle on the back of the jersey…I lobbied pretty hard to get that changed for the next season.”

1975 Astros Manager Preston Gomez studies the field as pitcher Doug Konieczny walks away. ~ (Notice how pitchers walking away in photos always make you think that something bad just happened?)

Also worth noting, as evidenced by the above photograph, is the number 40 in a black circle on manager Preston Gomez’ left shoulder. The patch was a memorial tribute to pitcher Don Wilson, who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in January 1975.

By 1979, the Astros had found a new owner in New Jersey shipbuilder John McMullen. The team contended with a record of 89-73 before signing Nolan Ryan to a free agent contract. The rainbow design remained unchanged but soon underwent several alterations. The Astros abandoned the orange caps in 1982 and scrapped the rainbow design altogether in 1986.

Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax, 1980.

Sometime around 2002, the Astros’ rainbow uniform design became popular within the ‘rapper’ culture. The Astros have since reintroduced the jerseys as alternates and they do indeed sell them at Minute Maid Park. More recently, the Astros understood that the prototype cap has become legendary amongst collectors. Hence their inclusion among gift shop merchandise.

To Norman LeBrun and your friend from Georgia, now you know the rest of the story.

Here’s a shot of two contemporary Astros (or should we say “temporary” Astros) wearing the rainbows in 2018. ~ Can you tell from this picture and our subtle single clue who they each might be?

 

******************************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

The Marwin G Rag

November 18, 2018

“Dear Mr. Luhnow ~ By now we fans figure you already know this, but it won’t cost anything to say it anyway to all of you analytic minds. ~ There aren’t any other Marwin Gonzalez types in the box with his name on it. Please, Please, Please, – Keep the one we got!”

 

One more time ~ and please note, I did not say one more last time ~ here is one powerful Tom Lehrer satire/parody, followed by a far more modest version of our own. ~ Have a nice Sunday, as we roll into Thanksgiving week. ~ and may God Bless us all, whether or not you accept God’s Blessings at all.

 

The Vatican Rag

By Tom Lehrer

(By Permission from “The God is Love” Essence

that now supports me and with no Malcontent

Blasphemy toward the Church That Raised me.)

First you get down on your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Do whatever steps you want, if
You have cleared them with the Pontiff.
Everybody say his own
Kyrie eleison,
Doin’ the Vatican Rag.

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
Tell you if your sin’s original.
If it is, try playing it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

So get down upon your knees,
Fiddle with your rosaries,
Bow your head with great respect,
And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome do like a Roman,
Ave Maria,
Gee it’s good to see ya,
Gettin’ ecstatic an’
Sorta dramatic an’
Doin’ the Vatican Rag!

******************************

The Marwin G Rag

By Satirical Circumstance 

First he gets down on his knees,
Does everything he can to please,
Bows his head ~ gets a crick in his neck,
Plus ~ deep respect, deep respect, deep respect!

Do whatever steps you want, Dear Marwin,
Outfield, Infield, Switch Hit the Far One.
All us fans ~ at game or home
Hope that you will never roam,
Doin’ the Marwin G Rag.

Get in line in Jeff’s confessional,
Ask him for the right concessional,
There, the guy who digs analytical,
Surely won’t yield to big stupidical
If he does, try playing it safer,
Pass on the wine ~ show Jeff your waiver,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to RENEGOTIATE!

Stand up from your aching knees,
Then tell Jeff ~ “your time to please”,
Raise your eyes ~ in great respect,
And ~ crick his neck, crick his neck, crick his neck!

Make a cross on your abdomen,
When in Rome ~ do like a Roman,
Ave Maria,
Gee it’s good to see ya,
Gettin’ ecstatic an’
Sorta dramatic an’
Doin’ the Marvin G Rag!

We hope you STAY here!

Marwin ~ won’t you please stay ~ HOME?

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Another Tom Lehrer Adaptation

November 17, 2018

 

Ballad of WWIII was about shorter wars. ~ Ballad of MLB is about shorter baseball games.

The Ballad of World War III (Post-Nuclear 20th Century)

By Tom Lehrer

So long, mom!
I’m off to drop the Bomb
So don’t wait up for me
But while you swelter
Down there in your shelter
You can see me
On your TV

While we’re attacking frontally
Watch Brin-k-ley and Hun-t-ley
Describing contrapuntally
The cities we have lost

No need for you to miss a minute
Of the agonizing holocaust

Yeah!

Little Johnny Jones
He was a US pilot
And no shrinking violet
Was he, he was mighty proud
When World War III was declared
He wasn’t scared
No siree!

And this is what he said on
His way to Armageddon:

So long, mom!
I’m off to drop the Bomb
So don’t wait up for me
But though I may roam
I’ll come back to my home
Although it may be
A pile of debris

Remember, mommy!
I’m off to get a commie

So send me a salami
And try to smile somehow
I’ll look for you
When the war is over
An hour and a half from now

 

********************

The Ballad of MLB

By Parody Adaptation (Today)

So long, mom!
I’m off to crunch the bomb
So don’t wait up for me
But while you swelter
Down there in your shelter
You can see me
On cable TV

While we’re attacking so bunt-free
Please keep your utmost faith in me
We just score runs in gobs, you see
And save those small ball costs
No need for you ~ to watch a second
As the agonizing fouls get lost

Oh Yeah!

Little Johnny Jones
He was a Seattle Pilot
And no shrinking violet
Was he, he was mighty proud
When his big move came around
Did he miss Puget Sound?
No siree!

And this is what he said on
His way to beer-ball-geddon:

So long, mom!
I’m off to crunch the Bomb
In dear old Mil-Wau-Kee
But though I may roam
I’ll come back to my home
Although it may be
A pile of debris

Remember, Mommy
I’m paid to drop the bomby
So save me a salami ~ as you watch those homers fly
I’ll come home to you ~ when the game is over

A minute and a half from now!

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

It Makes a Fellow Proud to be An Astro

November 16, 2018

“Ball Four” by Jim Bouton (1970)

At this week’s November 2018 meeting of the Larry Dierker SABR Chapter, Maxwell Kates did a fine presentation of his new book on MLB expansion and sharing credit with those who helped. Then he followed that nice accomplishment with a stimulating Q&A session with a panel of two former players from the Colt .45 days (Bob Aspromonte and Larry Dierker), plus, the most significant executive in the club’s long history, former GM and President Tal Smith. Slugger Jimmy Wynn was supposed to be there too, but a little DL time came up and yours truly was asked to sit in for him. ~ Well, I don’t have any trouble filling any chair these days on a literal basis, but my Pecan Park Eagle sandlot background was never any match for what Jimmy Wynn and the other guys named figuratively brought to the presence we needed here. I still, nevertheless. most humbly enjoyed knowing that I even had been asked on a fill-in basis. It was a lot of fun

The subject of Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” book came up for its reference to the parody song that had been written about the spirit of the old 1969 club. It was called “It Makes a Fellow Proud to be an Astro” ~ and, as Larry Dierker explained, it was actually a parody of an original parody written by the genius talent of those days, a fellow named Tom Lehrer, who also was a math professor at MIT around the same time he was scorching everything sacred in western culture with his acerbic wit and talent for poetic symmetry. ~ What Lehrer did in many other areas ~ and with his original piece in this instance, “It Makes a Fellow Proud to be a Soldier,” left the “Astro version” seem tamer by comparison.

Here’s a link to how the original Lehrer piece sounded ~ in case you need to know the flow of the melody before you read the words to the Astros version ~ which follows thereafter. Can’t really verify who actually wrote the Astro version, but you may want ask Jim Bouton if he’s ever in town and you run into him at an Astros game.

There’s really nothing terrible about the Astro version. In fact, it’s quite creative in its own right. It just happens to contain (presumably) the one four-letter word that turns into four consecutive asterisks (****) faster than any other in the English language, but I don’t really know that because ~ I’ve never seen the Astro version in writing prior until now ~ nor have I ever it heard it explicated in any sung version.

If you are excessively prudish ~ or too young ~ or too old ~ it might be better, if you just didn’t pursue it any further. ~ There are other days and tamer subjects awaiting us all.

The rest of you ~ still living folks ~ filled with a sense of humor and some awareness of the characters referenced in the song ~ please just let go and dive right in. ~ Those close to the action cherished of all among you already understand the difference between a Buddy Hancken cranking ~ and a Big Mama spanking!

Just Let it be 1969 again ~ when the Astrodome was still a baby ~ as were all our hopes for that first Houston Astros World Series Championship. ~ Back then ~ Astros catcher Johnny Edwards might even have been able to break into a parody chorus from one of his name-cousin’s ~ singer Tommy Edwards’ ~ biggest hits:

“Many a beer has to fall ~ but it’s all ~ in the game,

All in that wonderful game ~ that we PLAY ~ with glove!”

OK, as promised ~ first ~ the Tom Lehrer Proud-To-Be-a-Soldier Version Link:

 

And finally ~ the written Astros version: 

It Makes a Fellow Proud to be An Astro

Now, the Astros are a team that likes to go out on the town,
We like to drink and fight and **** till curfew comes around
Then it’s time to make the trek,
We better be back to buddy’s check,
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Now, Edwards is our catcher and he’s really No. 1,
Dave Bristol said he drinks too much and calls some long home runs,
But we think John will be all right,
If we keep him in his room at night,
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Now, our pitching staff’s composed of guys who think they’re ‘pretty cool,’
With a case of Scotch, a greenie and an old beat-up whirlpool,
We’ll make the other hitters laugh,
Then calmly break their bats in half,
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Now, Harry Walker is the one that manages this crew,
He doesn’t like it when we drink and fight and smoke and screw,
But when we win our game each day,
Then what the **** can Harry say?
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

MY GREATEST DAY IN SABR

November 15, 2018

 

By Maxwell Kates

 

Maxwell Kates, Baseball Researcher and Writer

Some of you may remember a column in Baseball Digest by famed Chicago sportswriter John Carmichael entitled “My Greatest Day in Baseball.” Well today I’m going to write about “My Greatest Day in SABR.” I joined in 2001 and without a doubt, my greatest day was November 12, 2018. That was the day I was invited by the Larry Dierker Chapter to speak at a meeting at the Spaghetti Western Italian Cafe in Houston. We did a book launch of Time for Expansion Baseball, the SABR book I co-edited with Bill Nowlin. As part of the festivities, we also hosted a Colt .45s panel. Several readers of the Pecan Park Eagle were in attendance. For those of you who did not attend, I will now attempt to recreate the evening’s events to the best of my abilities.

ABOUT THE COVER

Time for Expansion Baseball

The cover image focuses on three illustrations. The first depicts Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman with Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau. Directly below it is an image of Kansas City Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman watching a baseball game with his wife Muriel and fellow Missouri icon Stan Musial. Finally we see a photograph of Harry Craft, Bobby Shantz, Dick Farrell, Bob Aspromonte and their teammates on the 1962 Houston Colt .45s about to board an airplane in their cowboy uniforms. On the surface, the design is meant represent the symbiotic relationship between players, owners, and politicians as the driving forces behind expansion teams.

The collection of images also represents, to borrow the title of a Bill Brown book, “my baseball journey.” I grew up in Ottawa with the Montreal Expos and later, the Ottawa Lynx as their AAA club. Who could forget the sight of Georgia boy Tom Foley attempt to ice skate on the Rideau Canal as part of the Expos’ winter caravan? The Expos were my introduction to baseball. Meanwhile, Muriel Kauffman (nee McBrien) was born in Toronto into a prominent political family. The Toronto Transit Commission is located in the McBrien Building. Named after Muriel’s uncle, the building is situated across the street from my house. Toronto was my introduction to SABR. As for the third image, the project was completed with the assistance of 21 men and women from Houston. This included representatives of SABR, the Pecan Park Eagle, Tal Smith Enterprises, and the Astros. More on that later.

Brownie Has His Baseball Journey and I Had Mine.

THE COLT .45s PANEL

We were fortunate to have three Colt .45s players and one executive volunteer to appear as part of an expansion panel. When one of the players was unable to attend, a notable fan and historian was able to pinch-hit admirably. Please allow me to introduce the five members of the panel:

 

Bob Aspromonte
On April 10, 1962, among his several firsts, he scored the first run in franchise history as the Houston Colt .45s defeated the Chicago Cubs, 11-2, in their NL debut.

Born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York, this first panelist broke in with the Dodgers in 1956 when he was only 18 years old. Drafted by the Houston Colt .45s in 1962, he became a fan favourite at 3rd base, setting a franchise record with 6 grand slams between 1962 and 1968. He retired in 1971 having returned to his hometown with the New York Mets. He was the Urban Cowboy while John Travolta was still in the third grade. Please welcome, number 14, Bob Aspromonte!

Hey Bob – He’s Wearing Your Uniform! (At least, your number.)
Yes, that’s right! That’s Gil Hodges wearing # 14 for the Mets.

We now travel to the opposite end of the country, to Hollywood, California. That’s where our next panelist is from. While still a teenager, he was signed to an amateur contract by the Houston Colt .45s. How would history have changed if he did not sign with Houston? He never would have struck out Willie Mays on his 18th birthday. He never would have pitched a no-hitter on Foamer Night. And most importantly, he never would have had a SABR chapter named after him. Please welcome, number 49, Larry Dierker!

Larry Dierker, who would later manage the Astros to 4 playoff runs in his 5 seasons as manager (1997-2001). Why not? This was the same guy that struck out Willie Mays in his 18th birthday MLB pitching debut.

Our next panelist comes from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A graduate of Duke University, he entered the baseball world with the Cincinnati Reds. In 1960, he joined his mentor, Gabe Paul, to establish the new team in Houston. Except for two years in the mid 1970s, when he went to work for the Yankees, he’s been in Houston ever since. He actually built the team twice, the second as a general manager in 1975 when he didn’t even have an owner to speak of. Within five years, the Astros were within one game of a trip to the World Series. He was Major League Executive of the Year in 1980. Please welcome Tal Smith!

Houston GM Tal Smith with Manager Bill Virdon. Both were soft spoken gentlemen whose pursuits of excellence were relentless.

Our final panelist was born in Beeville, Texas. He grew up on the east side of Houston where he played sandlot baseball for the Pecan Park Eagles. A graduate of Tulane University, he has written two baseball biographies, one for Jerry Witte and the other for Jimmy Wynn. On August 25, 2018, he celebrated his surprise retirement party here at the Spaghetti Western. Among his gifts, the club used by his great grandfather, Liam McCurdy, in Ireland to slaughter the mythical sea serpent. Please welcome Bill McCurdy!

“I have only a quote from Clint Eastwood for all the serpents of this world and that’s ~ “Stay Off My Lawn!” ~ Dr. Bill McCurdy

Here is the introduction I had prepared for Jim Wynn. The other 24 may have been the “Say Hey Kid” but this # 24 was the Cincinnati Kid. Born in the Queen City, he was drafted from the Colt .45s by the Reds in 1963. Among the home runs he hit to earn the name ‘the Toy Cannon,’ a blast into Hudepohl Heaven above Crosley Field which landed on the street where he grew up. Three years later, in 1970, he hit another one which landed in the upper deck at the Astrodome. In 1974, he was traded to Los Angeles, where he led the Dodgers to their first National League pennant in eight years. He retired in 1977 as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Jim Wynn, ladies and gentlemen!

The Still Great Jimmy Wynn!
~ The Toy Cannon Forever! ~

TRIBUTE TO THE LARRY DIERKER CHAPTER

Many of you know that one of my favourite expressions is “our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” It was with those words that Jim McKay introduced the grim fate of the eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Since my last visit to Houston in February 2017, the city realized both its worst fears and its greatest hopes, all within a ten week period. One common link between the two events is that both brought out the best in the community and gave Houston an opportunity to shine.

Early GM Paul Richards
“The Wizard of Waxahachie”

This Evening of Monday, November 12, 2018 …

Tonight is about a third event which brought out a much smaller segment within Houston. This book. And I’m thrilled to launch the book right here in Houston because more people from Houston contributed to the book than from any other city. I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce them all.

Mike Acosta, Bob Aspromonte, Bill Brown, Rick Bush, Wayne Chandler, Chris Chestnut, Larry Dierker, Bob Dorrill, Marsha Franty, Mickey Herskowitz, Jim Kreuz, Lori Leatherwood, Greg Lucas, Bill McCurdy, Dena Propis, Wayne Roberts, Tal Smith, Joe Thompson, Mike Vance, Mark Wernick, and Jim Wynn.

To that list I will add Lou DiScioli, Carl Ingram, Mike McCroskey, and Fred Soland for their contributions to the meeting, and Greg Randolph for his thoughtful gift of a 1980 Astros’ World Series press pin.

Mike Acosta and Mike Vance
~ Two of Houston’s most treasured social historians.

In Memoriam

In my ethnoculture, we are taught that even on the most joyous of occasions of weddings, bar mitzvahs, and perhaps book launches, it is important to remember those we have lost. For that reason, I have asked to pay tribute to two members of the Larry Dierker Chapter who have passed away in the last year. We lost Ralph Hackemack in May. While I never had the pleasure to meet the man, I know that he loved SABR and he loved every one of you. Shortly after I completed these slides, we also lost Bill Gilbert. Bill was the founder of the Larry Dierker Chapter and I think we can all agree that he was one of the nicest people we ever met. Ralph and Bill, ladies and gentlemen.

THE THREE STARS

In hockey, there are three stars to every game. Accordingly, I’d like to announce the three stars of the “Time for Expansion Baseball” project. One of the three is in this room tonight.

Colt .45s in the Clubhouse

The first star, of course, is my co-editor, Bill Nowlin. Bill and I first met at the SABR convention in Boston in 2002. I hope everyone here has a chance to work on a project with Bill. He has been an excellent mentor in this, my introduction to the production side of SABR literature. Bill designed the format and presented an opportunity both challenging and encouraging. Bill is an excellent teacher, allowing his “students” to make mistakes on their own while ensuring that they learn and recover.

The second star comes from Detroit and that’s Dwayne Labakas. One of the greatest obstacles to the production of this book was to obtain the rights to photographs from 14 different teams on a budget of $1,000.00. I’ve known Dwayne for 23 years and he stepped forwards to offer us the rights to any of the photos in his catalogue that we needed for the book. A lot of the photos in the book are Dwayne’s, including one of Bob Aspromonte.

Now for the third star and the one who is here tonight. Not only did he write a chapter of the book, provide interviews, and offer photographs, but he also participated in an expansion draft. For this, I’d like to call Tal Smith to the front of the room for a special presentation. Tal, I was in England this summer when I spotted a book at Waitstone’s in London. It’s a Libyan-Romanian fusion cook book from South Africa and when I saw it, I was reminded of you. Why not? It has your name written all over it. That’s right, the author’s name is Tal Smith. Mrs. Smith. Thanks and hope you enjoy the book.

No, Our Baseball Tal Smith does not have a daughter named Talicia, Talotta, or just plain Tal. This pictured Tal Smith is a female South African cookbook author and she is shown here with her husband, Russell. Both may someday hear of baseball for the first time by some random future contact by the always social and curious writer of this column, the one and only Maxwell Kates

“PROUD TO BE AN ASTRO”

The final question of the night was addressed to Larry Dierker and it was asked by the moderator of the panel. He credited Larry for his interest in the Astros, dating back to the time he was home from school sick at the age of 13. The boy’s father suggested that he read a book called “Ball Four.” His mother wasn’t so sure, rebutting with “David, don’t let him read that!” The only trouble is, I had already started to read. One of the funniest passages, in my opinion, was when author Jim Bouton chronicled a song the players were singing on the bus. The song was called “Proud to be an Astro” and it was written by Larry Dierker. I asked Larry to discuss the story behind the hit and suggested he even sing a few bars.

Larry Dierker with John D’Acquisto and Mike Caldwell, 1977.

Larry explained that he wrote a lot of song parodies. This particular one was a satire of “Proud to be a Soldier,” written by Tom Lehrer. In addition to a songsmith, Tom was a professor at MIT. The same way “Soldier” lampooned army life, Larry’s version compared playing for taskmaster Harry Walker to serving under the likes of Sgt. Merwin Toomey of “Biloxi Blues” fame.

What I had not counted on was being tricked by Larry into singing the song myself. Fortunately I had written a clean set of lyrics to avoid further embarrassment.

THE FINAL WORD

November 12, 2018 ~ The one and only Maxwell Kates ~ lifting the spirits of the Larry Dierker Chapter of SABR with his slide and panel presentation on MLB expansion and the Houston Colt .45s.

The state tree of Texas is the pecan.

The state motto of Texas is “friendship”

Thanks y’all.

 

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Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

 

Thank You, Maxwell Kates

November 14, 2018

Maxwell Kates ~ His new book with Warren Corbett on MLB expansion is a must-have item for researchers and deep blue baseball history readers.

 

Thank You, Maxwell Kates!

Your doubleheader presentation at last night’s Larry Dierker November 2018 SABR Meeting went off as smoothly as the silver streaks in your distinguished Canadian head of hair.

First Your New Book ….

 

 Your presentation of your new book WITH Warren Corbett, “Time for Expansion Baseball”, was nothing short of compelling. Most of what you told us is presented here in your own Internet description words, but, unfortunately, without all the vim and verve of the Toronto~Ontarion style of enthusiastic pizzaz you bring to the potential readership’s individual cravings for salt, pepper, and assorted, but variable condiments of subject spice.

Here’s my recollection of your major general remarks, based upon my ability to pilfer the Net for your own words, as follows:

The Los Angeles Angels and the “new” Washington Senators ushered in baseball’s expansion in 1960, followed quickly by the Houston Colt .45s and the New York Mets. By 1998, ten additional franchises had been awarded with the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots, Toronto Blue Jays, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays coming into the American League, and the Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, and Arizona Diamondbacks to the National League. Since then, some of those teams have relocated or changed names, but TIME FOR EXPANSION BASEBALL tells the story of how each franchise was formed, built its team, and began play. Biographies of key players from each team’s early years are also included, from early Angels like Eli Grba and Duke Maas to Senator Tom Sturdivant, from Seattle Pilots Tommy Harper and Lou Piniella to Seattle Mariners Julio Cruz and Rick Jones. Featuring a foreword by Tal Smith, who has done three separate stints in the Houston front office, and the contributions of 54 SABR members, TIME FOR EXPANSION BASEBALL also includes dozens of photos from team historical archives.

(Of course, Maxwell, given the audience you were addressing at our Spaghetti Western private dinner party room, the Houston salsas of subject interest were also emphasized in deep dish volumes that go way beyond what we have time or space to rekindle here. ~ Toronto moms don’t “raise no fools.”)

Next, your moderator handling of the Houston Colt .45s Panel Q&A Session ….

You did great, Max, you did great! ~ But look at the material you had at your disposal!

Had Jimmy Wynn not been unable to attend, you could have four pure gold Colt .45/Astro icons filling all four chairs. Because of Jimmy’s absence, I agreed to sit in as his ancient fan/biographical co-author on “The Toy Cannon” ~ thus transforming the panel into one comprised of three icons and one acorn (albeit, a Pecan Park Eagle acorn), but one that came with no illusions that I could ever replace Jimmy Wynn in this lineup. ~ I could sit in his chair in a pinch, but no one could fill the space that Jimmy Wynn owns in the heart of our Houston MLB franchise history.

Look at who they were ~ and who they were intended to be: (1) Bob Aspromonte, among other firsts, he was the man who scored the first run in franchise history; (2) Larry Dierker, the first great pitcher in club history and the guy who celebrated his 18th birthday by breaking into the big leagues as a pitcher by striking out the great Willie Mays; (3) Tal Smith, the guy who completed the club’s oversight on the Astrodome construction project ~ and who would also go on to become the face and voice of club general managers and presidents; and (4) Jimmy Wynn ~ “The Toy Cannon” ~ the little guy who hit ’em for miles ~ and the first great home run hitter in Houston MLB history ~ Astrodome death valley fence distances and dead enclosed travel air be damned.

We were just lucky and humbly honored to be there as the pinch runner for Jimmy Wynn.

One More Thing ….

We just wanted to clarify something from the way you introduced me. It’s no big deal, but we do like to get things right, even as we grant others the right to think different, act different, and think different from us. And it’s nothing at all personal here ~ but it is a call for minor correction if you ever have any need to introduce me again in the future.

In so many words, you described Bill McCurdy (yours truly) as A veteran of the Pecan Park Eagles Little League team.

Corrections: The Pecan Park Eagles were never controlled by the Little League group. We were nothing more ~ and nothing less ~ than a rising-from-the-dirt Houston East End sandlot baseball team in the Pecan Park neighborhood just south of Griggs Road, off the Gulf Freeway, going to the south on the east side of I-45 South, as you continue south, from Griggs Road to Evergreen on your left ~ is still today ~ Pecan Park.

So what? ~ So this what! ~ In sandlot ball, it was our game. We didn’t have much, but we didn’t have adults controlling the game and how we played out our own dreams of it. Sandlotters got about a hundred “at bats” a day and more long fly ball miracle catch opportunities than any Little Leaguer could ever hope to see. And you got to find out what you were made of on your own. We didn’t have our parents hauling us off to special training camps to see why some of us just stood there watching perfectly good pitches we faced breeze by us. We either dove in and tried ~ or we got fried.

We ~ the Pecan Park Eagles ~ liked it that way. ~ Please ~ never call us Little Leaguers again. ~ We were sandlotters ~ plain and simple ~ and just happy to be.

The Pronunciation of “pecan” difference. ….

It seems to be a regional thing. ~ Going north ~ apparently all the way to Canada ~ the way people pronounce the word “pecan” begins to change from ….

our Texas puh-CON (that’s “puh” as in pulverize)

to

PEE-can …. and changing the whole melody of how that word dances in our minds.

You are free to call it what you wish, of course, but I’m just trying to tell you. ~ When you say “PEE-can” ~ it seems to reawaken in some of us a DNA-traceable association to the pre-indoor plumbing days when people maintained small to large tin can containers in their bedrooms on cold ~ or all ~ nights ~ for the sake of dealing with nature’s nocturnal calls until the contents could then be dumped outside through the nearest open window.

In the end, these items are small. ~ You did a great job, my friend!

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

How Jimmy Wynn Got to LA in Dec. 1973

November 13, 2018

Last night I subbed for Jimmy Wynn on the November 2018 Larry Dierker Chapter SABR meeting panel that assembled to discuss the Colt .45s that included Bob Aspromonte, who scored the first run in franchise history on April 10, 1962 ~ among several other firsts; Larry Dierker, who struck out Willie Mays on his 18th birthday pitching debut of September 22, 1964; and Tal Smith, the man who directed the completion of the Astrodome in 1965 ~ and who then spent many years in service to the Houston franchise as a top-level executive who rose to general manager and president of the club; plus Jimmy Wynn, who could not make it this time for reasons of health. Enter yours truly ~ mostly to keep the empty chair company and less forlorn looking.

As Jimmy Wynn’s co-author on his biography, “The Toy Cannon,” I was asked what I thought Jimmy’s feelings were about his trade to the Dodgers  in exchange for pitcher Claude Osteen and a minor leaguer. prior to the 1974 season. I said that Jimmy felt fine about it ~ that the positive reception he received from the Dodgers, combined with his desire to get away from the time he spent under manager Harry Walker in Houston helped a lot. Since Walker already had been gone for a season and some part of another by this time, Jimmy still had never recovered from the feelings he had about Walker ~ and Walker’s permanent replacement, Leo Durocher, had not done much to help Jimmy’s full morale about the field leadership in Houston. Besides ~ nothing in sight would make hitting home runs easier in the Astrodome for Jimmy or any other guys who wanted to hit for power.

Wish I had remembered in time to express these issues in Jimmy’s exact words, and so, I will simply describe them here in my own. Only Jimmy Wynn can fully speak for himself in this matter:

That being said …. and as I see it ….

In “The Toy Cannon”, (Chapter 13, page 154) Jimmy Wynn recognizes that Astros GM  Spec Richardson knew that the Astros had no choice after 1973 but to have his approval as a 10/5 man on any trade ~ or else ~ risk losing all his trade value to free agency. And I will always believe that Jimmy had communicated these two major conditional factors to getting his approval for a trade to GM Richardson prior to the actual deal in these terms.

Jimmy’s two preferences on a trade ….

Jimmy wanted to be traded to either (1) a ball park where home run hitting was easier ~ or ~ (2) to a franchise that had a real chance to reach the World Series.

I will always believe that Jimmy made these two preferred conditions clear to the Astros prior to his actual trade to the Dodgers ~ But I also concede that only a GM with a rock for a brain could have failed to figure them out independently. Spec may have possessed a number of shortcomings as a GM, but he was far from being a rock on this one. He knew exactly what Jimmy wanted to see in this deal and he brought it home in his Dodgers or Cubs choice.

Deal # 1 would have put him in Wrigley Field as a Chicago Cub ~ for what players ~ we do not know. The other possibility ~ Deal # 2 ~ was to see Jimmy Wynn join the pennant-contending Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jimmy Wynn expressed his preference to the Astros for LA ~ where he simply blossomed as a popular power hitter who finally got to a World Series, ~ and where his gallant effort in a losing cause in 1974 there included a World Series home run.

After his last 1977 season, Jimmy Wynn returned to Houston ~ the city that had become his home ~ and found work with the only franchise that still owns his heart to this day ~ in spite of some earlier hard times with certain Houston managers ~ and his one great pennant winning season with the LA Dodgers.

Jimmy Wynn – forever will be ~ one of the hearts that makes up the Big Heart of the Houston Astros!

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

Pitchers Who Gave Up Ruth’s 714 HR

November 11, 2018

Babe Ruth ~ The Hero Whose Myths and Deeds Transcend The Usual Limitations of Time Upon Awesome Eternal Regard.

Thanks to Internet site sources like Baseball Almanac.com and Baseball Reference.com, we now have dynamic records at our fingertips that once were only dream possibilities back in the mid-twentieth century of print form materials alone. What a difference the availability of digital, electronically shared data has made in our no-extra-cost abilities to explore and research ~ whether these tools are used for personal joy or deep analytical research ~ until today ~ as they are now used here in the dawn of the Digital Age.

Jack Warhop

Today’s credit goes to Baseball Reference.com.

Our research question was a simple one: We wanted to see a chronological list of all the pitchers ~ from # 1 to # 714 ~ who gave up that golden number of career home runs to Babe Ruth over the course of his MLB career (1914-1935).

One of the first things we learned by confirmation of something we read years ago was that Babe Ruth, the 19-year-old rookie Red Sox pitcher, didn’t hit any homers during the short time he played in “the bigs” in his limited time first season of 1914. That moment would not occur until the following year.

First Two came off RHP Jack Warhop.

Guy Bush

Babe Ruth’s first two big league homers were struck as a member of the Boston Red Sox off right-handed pitcher Jack Warhop of the New York Yankees in separate games played at Yankee Stadium on May 6th and June 2nd of 1915.

Last Two came off RHP Guy Bush.

Babe Ruth’s last two big league homers (#s 713 and 714) were crunched as a member of the Boston Braves off right-handed pitcher Guy Bush of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the same game played at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on May 25, 1935. An earlier Ruth HR (# 712) in that same famous game off right-hander Red Lucas gave the Babe his last 3-HR game in his incredible career. Ruth would go 0 for 9 in five more games at Cincinnati (3) and Philadelphia (2) and then retire on May 30, 1935.

Two easy ironies.

Babe Ruth made his bones as the greatest slugger of all time wearing the pin stripes of the New York Yankees, but he hit his first first and last two home runs wearing the Boston brand togs of both the Red Sox and the Braves. And he hit his last great home run binge for the Braves ~ the same team ~ two cities and 39 years later removed from Atlanta and the coming of the man who would break his own career homer mark ~ a fellow named Hank Aaron.

A link to your own entertainment with the data from this link is worth the finger compression on your mouse.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/event_hr.fcgi?id=ruthba01&t=b

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle